Saint Louis Rapid: Caruana starts with a bang

by Venkatachalam Saravanan
8/12/2018 – At the start of the 2018 Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz, all eyes were on Fabiano Caruana, as everybody in the United States is eager to see how he will do in the match against Magnus Carlsen. Fabiano responded in kind by winning all three games in spectacular fashion. He is now the sole leader of the event, which continues until Wednesday. V SARAVANAN sent a full report from Missouri. | Pictured: Fabiano Caruana with Alejandro Ramirez and Rustam Kasimdzhanov | Photo: V. Saravanan

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Good advice for the challenger

It was just before the beginning of the third round at the Saint Louis Rapid and Blitz tournament and it looked a scene out of ordinary. A relaxed Fabiano Caruana was found having a chat with Rustam Kasimdzhanov, his second, and Alejandro Ramirez from the commentary team at the ground floor lobby of the club. He looked oblivious to the brilliant victory he had scored in the second round and seemingly relaxed about the upcoming third round, where he was scheduled to play Mamedyarov, who had scored a crushing win against So Wesley in his first game and had almost defeated Alexander Grischuk afterwards.

During the inauguration ceremony of the Saint Louis Rapid & Blitz tournament on Friday, when asked for the best advice he could give Fabiano Caruana to defeat Magnus Carlsen in the upcoming World Championship match in November 2018, Levon Aronian urged him to play "interesting, original [and] sharp lines" for a victory in the match. Within 24 hours, he was facing the very magic that he had recommended to Caruana trained on his own self:

Black uncorked the deadly 24…Ng3+! effectively ending the game:


Levon Aronian – when your own words get the strength to come back and bite! | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Spectrum Studios

This, after a particularly pleasing victory in the first round against Alexander Grischuk, whose arrival at Saint Louis wasn’t smooth as he reached the place only at 1 AM on Saturday, on the day of the game!

Grischuk, seen a tad dishevelled being appraised of the regulations of the tournament by the chief arbiter Boyd Reed just before the beginning of the first round | Photo: V.Saravanan


Building up a crushing attack, Caruana uncorked the elegant 26…Bxh3! which immediately decimated White’s position after 27.gxh3? g2 28.Ng4 Rxh3 and Black won soon.

Caruana would later elaborate in a chat with Maurice Ashley that he felt good! “I have spent a lot of time with chess in the last two months, after Paris… I have been playing a lot of sports, and relaxing a little bit…”

Maxime Vachier-Lagrave and Sergey Karjakin were the other two who impressed on the first day, and the latter played a delightful game of ideas about which he can be quite pleased with himself:

Karjakin produced lots of delightful ideas against Dominguez | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Spectrum Studios


Karjakin came up with the delightful 12.Rh3!? here setting the stage for an attack on the black king. 


And here, he followed up with 18.Nxe5!? (The engines favour the simple 18.Be2 with a clear advantage for White), which was such a treat to watch in a rapid game, and after 18…Bxd6 19.Rxb4!? Bxe5 20.Re3 Qe7 finally came…


21.Bb2!? Ladies and gentlemen, this is the 'elephant in the room', the unspoken presence which was the reason for all White’s moves which were praiseworthy so far! 12.Rh3, 18.Nxe5 and 19.Rxb4 were all conducted with belief in the strength of this bishop, and Karjakin now goes one up in that belief! 21…Bf4 22.Qa1!? The elephant is now even given an extra battery! By the way, the engines will tell you White has not played perfect chess in the last 10 moves, but what matters is the beauty of the human thought in a rapid game at the highest levels of chess, which enabled Karjakin to produce the moves. He obtained a deserving victory in 28 moves.

And this game also emphasizes why the moniker Minister of Defence for Karjakin is so wrong!

Vachier-Lagrave ground down Anand from the white side of the most popular opening of our times to score his only victory of his day. But curiously, Anand had his 'Berlin day', producing the opening in all his three games with either colour.

Water versus Red Bull! | Photo: V.Saravanan

A curious sight greeted the spectators just before the start of the first round. A simple glass of water facing a more colourful tin of RedBull, just before the start of the game Anand - Nakamura.  It was quite easy to think up exaggerated quotes, as Nakamura has a score of 4½ – 1½ over Anand in the Grand Chess Tour this year before this game, but it was much easier to just keep the simple spectacle — Water versus Red Bull! 

But it turned out to be Anand’s day as he got into one of his favourite weapons of play – the exchange sacrifice:


Nakamura lost the thread of the game here, and went for 20…h5? and was swiftly punished with 21.Bf4 Qd7 22.Rxf6! gxf6 23.Bxc7 Qxc7 24.Qxh5, handing over a victory for Anand.

One finds the Saint Louis Club tastefully decorated, and the particular set of historical chess pictures on the walls was quite enjoyable | Photo: V.Saravanan

But one of the most impressive of all was a particular picture praising Viswanathan Anand, among the gallery of world champions.

An unusual concept for any chess player, leave alone Vishy Anand! | Photo: V.Saravanan

And finally, the other big story of the day was the leader of the Grand Chess Tour at this stage, Wesley So. With characteristic simplicity, Wesley arrives much earlier in the afternoon before the other players and prepares himself for the game in his own way. Chatting amiably with the organisers and staff of the club, even the spectators, he spends a quiet time with his family, who are obviously his biggest source of strength.

Wesley So with his family, quietly getting ready for the game | Photo: Saint Louis Chess Club / Lennart Ootes

But the day was mostly forgettable for him, as he started with a loss against Mamedyarov in the first round, when he was quite not himself.


The position may be objectively defendable for White, but the very thought that So went into this position with gaping holes in the kingside, is itself striking, considering his main strength of strategical soundness. He gradually went downhill to lose the game in 30 moves.

Standings after Round 3


All games - Rapid section


Day 1 commentary

Commentary by Yasser Seirawn, Jennifer Shahade and Maurice Ashley


Saravanan is an IM from Chennai, the southern-most state of Tamil Nadu, India. He has been an active chess player in the Indian circuit, turning complete chess professional in 2012, actively playing and being a second to strong Indian players. He has been consistently writing on chess since late 1980s and is a correspondent to national newspapers and news channels.


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